If the Dodgers want to add an impact player via the trade market this offseason, they should consider moving Chris Taylor.
Earlier this week an article published on RedReporter made a strong case for the Cincinnati Reds to pursue Chris Taylor. Having recently non-tendered outfielder Billy Hamilton the Reds are in search of outfield depth, and could further benefit from Taylor’s versatility in the infield. The two clubs have also shown a proclivity for working out trades; Cingrani and Floro stand out as recent examples.
According to reports, the two clubs have been involved in discussions during the Winter Meetings, and Jon Heyman mentioned that Chris Taylor may be in the group of outfielders that the front office would be open to moving.
#Dodgers, #Reds have talked multiple times, sources tell The Athletic. Different packages being discussed; Puig in play as well as other LAD outfielders, pitchers. Dodgers want to clear money for other pursuits. Puig projected $11.3M in arb, per @mlbtraderumors, Alex Wood $9M.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 11, 2018
Dodgers have a plethora of good outfielders, and Bellinger is the one most coveted. But of course he’s the 1 Dodgers most want to keep. Puig, Peterson, Taylor, even Verdugo more available. Dodgers. match up well with both marlins and indians.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 11, 2018
What’s the market look like?
The 2019 free agent class is top-heavy for outfielders. Bryce Harper and A.J. Pollock headline the class and will certainly command sizable, multi-year contracts, which could hamper the long-term financial flexibility of most teams, especially a small market team like the Reds.
Andrew McCutchen, who’s a few seasons removed from putting up MVP-caliber numbers, was expected to be the value-pick out of the bunch. However, with the Phillies finalizing a 3-year, $50 million deal with McCutchen it will be interesting to see how the market shakes out for the headliners.
Just last week a report surfaced that Pollock is in search of 5-year, $80 million contract:
Free agent center fielder A.J. Pollock is attracting plenty of interest, but he’s looking for close to Lorenzo Cain’s 5-year, $80 million deal with #Brewers in early talks with suitors.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) November 28, 2018
While Pollock has shown he can be an explosive offensive player, he hit 21 home runs and posted an .800 OPS last year in route to 2.5 fWAR, he’s also 31 years-old, has an extensive injury history, and has regressed to average-like defense. For comparison sake, Taylor is 3 years younger, coming off a season where he hit 17 home runs, posted a .775 OPS, and was worth 3.1 fWAR—it was also a down year compared to his 2017 campaign. To add insult to injury, Taylor is entering his first year of arbitration—MLB Trade Rumors projects he’ll make $3.2 million in 2019.
The market for Bryce Harper is on another level, with reports having surfaced that Harper and his agent Scott Boras’ refused a 10 year, $300 million offer from the Nationals. At this point, only a handful of teams are in a financial position to take on $300 million+ contract, and that short list includes the Dodgers.
Top 3 teams in the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes according to @kurkjian_ESPN
3. White Sox
— Kevin Negandhi (@KNegandhiESPN) December 7, 2018
Too Much Depth?
The Dodgers value defensively flexibility. It’s why they’ve opted to use players like Taylor, Bellinger, Hernandez, Muncy, and Barnes in multiple, sometimes unconventional, positions. Depth and versatility are strengths of their lineup, because it allows them to use hitting matchups to their advantage and give key guys days-off without reaching too far into the depth chart.
The problem with having so much depth on a roster is that you can only field nine positions at a time; it keeps young prospects from getting an opportunity to prove themselves at the Major League level (see Alex Verdugo) and takes away playing time from valuable players (see David Freese in 2018 Postseason).
Outfield is a logjam for the Dodgers, and Chris Taylor may be the most expendable of bunch.
Bellinger’s demonstrated his aptitude to be an every-day centerfielder, with Muncy and Freese looking like solid options to platoon at first base in 2019. While Cody’s sophomore season was less than spectacular, his offensive potential/production is the best of the group, he’s a capable defender in the outfield and plus defender at first base, and he’s under team control for five more seasons.
Yasiel Puig is demonstrating the offensive consistency that he lacked in his early years on the team. He’ll also be a free agent following this season, meaning his market shrinks to teams just looking for an outfield rental. Keep in mind the Dodgers are also aggressively pursuing free agent Bryce Harper—if they land him things would get even more complicated for Puig. Harper won’t be a candidate for a platoon. It’s unsurprising that Puig’s name has come up in trade discussions this offseason, as moving him would almost certainly need to be accomplished before solidifying a deal with Harper.
Matt Kemp, despite a resurgence offensively, is unlikely to be moved because of his hefty price tag—the Dodgers will owe $18 million to Kemp in 2019. If the Dodgers can find a willing suitor for Kemp—he could be an interesting candidate for a DH role in the American League—they would likely need to pay part of his contract or take on a similarly hefty contract in return. Either way, moving Kemp wouldn’t get the Dodgers any closer to adding a true impact player.
Verdugo, the Dodgers top prospect, has only a handful at-bats at the Major League level, and he’s reaching the point at which he’s earned an opportunity to prove himself to the organization as an everyday player or be moved for a top player—his name has undoubtedly come up in discussions with the Marlins for JT Realmuto. Outside of Taylor, Verdugo is the most likely to be moved in a deal that would bring on a prized return. His hit tools and defensive versatility has already intrigued a number of teams, however, I’d be more reluctant to part ways with Verdugo given that his offensive ceiling exceeds Taylor’s and he has additional years of control.
Joc’s as interesting trade candidate as well. But unfortunately, compared to Taylor he’s a less capable defender, possibly a platoon-level bat (career .180 BA against lefties), more expensive than Chris Taylor (per MLB Trade Rumors), and has a year less of control. Offensively he’s yet to demonstrate consistency that would indicate exactly the type of player teams should expect, a 25+ home run slugger that gets on base or part of future teams’ left-field platoon.
Kiké’s another candidate for more consistent playing time as an outfielder, considering that by some measures he was better offensive player than Chris Taylor in 2018 and has the flexibility to cover every defensive position on the field. Kiké’s under team control for two more seasons, despite being a year younger than Taylor, and projects to be worth 2.1 WAR next season compared to a 2.4 WAR projection for Taylor.
In 2017, Chris Taylor revitalized his career. Changes to his hitting approach and swing took him from a below-average utility player to a 4 WAR, 20+ home run, leadoff hitter for the Dodgers. Taylor’s 2017 slash line was .288/.354/.496 and he put up impressive Postseason numbers en route to a co-NLCS MVP award. Everything about Chris Taylor’s 2017 campaign was extraordinary.
On the offensive side, 2018 was a step back for Taylor. He led the National League in strikeouts, with 178, saw his slash line shrink to .254/.331/.444 and saw a 13-point decrease in his wRC+ (113). He hit fewer home runs, despite 50+ more plate appearances, saw his swing percentage on balls outside the zone increase (modestly), and had his contact rate decrease by six percent. Even more cause for concern is that Taylor’s BABIPin 2018 was .345 and his Statcast expected BA was .236. Fangraphs projects another slide in Taylor’s 2019 weighted runs created plus down to 100, which is considered league average.
Despite the regression, Taylor had a decent 2018. His offensive production was above-average and his defensive flexibility places him in an elite group of utility players. On top of that, he had another stellar Postseason at the plate, and has solidified himself as a “clutch” contributor. There’s absolutely value to be had from keeping Taylor around, which is more than likely what will happen given the front office’s penchant for hoarding cheap talent. Still, it would be interesting to consider how the team might benefit if they shopped him given the relatively inflexible market for outfielders this offseason.
Adding an Impact Player
One of the Dodgers biggest weaknesses heading into the 2019 season is the lack of “true” second basemen. Over the last three seasons they’ve been amongst the least productive at the position, using stop gaps like Logan Forsythe and Brian Dozier. They’ve already been linked to free agent DJ LeMahieu this off-season, despite his less-than-impressive offensive numbers. Internal options include a platoon of Muncy and Taylor or Kiké, but the front office has been reluctant to rely on that platoon—last year they traded for Brian Dozier mid-season.
For the Dodgers to pull the trigger on a hypothetical Chris Taylor trade, they would need the discussions to start with Scooter Gennett. He’s precisely the kind of offensive player they’re looking for; gets on base, hits for power, and has reasonable splits against left-handers (.294 BA in 2018). He’s 28, and will enter free agency after the 2019 season, meaning another solid season could pave the way for an extension, which the Dodgers could afford.
There haven’t been any reputable reports that the Reds are currently shopping Gennett. He’s a fan favorite and Cincinnati-native, and trading him away in his final season could get in the way of plans to offer him a long term contract. But it’s also interesting to note that the Reds’ top prospect, Nick Senzel, was transitioned over to second base in Triple-A Louisville.
Beyond Gennett, the Dodgers would be looking for high-leverage bullpen arms, of which the Reds have a couple interesting pieces. Amir Garrett, Raisel Iglesias, David Hernandez, and Jared Hughes are all influential bullpen pieces for the Reds in 2018, and rumors suggested that all of them were available this past trade deadline. Both Garrett and Iglesias have shown a tremendous amount of upside and 4+ years of control—the Dodgers would need to add pieces in order to make something like this work.
Yes, the Dodgers should be shopping Chris Taylor. He’s a prime “sell-high” candidate with some concerning peripheral numbers that may be cause for even further offensive regression. The market for cheap, controllable outfielders (with upside) is remarkably thin, while a number of contenders will be looking for pieces to add. Beyond the Reds, teams like the Mariners, Indians, and Rays could be potential landing spots for Taylor as they look to add outfield depth.
The Dodgers have a talented lineup, and logjam of outfielders. As a utility player, Kiké makes Chris Taylor a redundancy—while he can anchor a trade that would bring an improvement to weaknesses at second base, catcher, and/or in the bullpen.
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